Italian cyclo-cross sensation Marco Aurelio Fontana (Selle Italia Guerciotti A.S.D.) has won a number of junior and under-23 national titles in both cyclo-cross and cross-country mountain biking during his still-budding career but says nothing compares to the Italian national ‘cross championship he won in January 2008 in Scorze.
“Winning the national championship was an incredible sensation because it makes you feel like you are the strongest rider in Italy,” said Fontana. “All the other titles have no value anymore. Now people see me as a national champion and no longer as the kid who used to bunny hop barriers and pop wheelies at the finish line.”
After winning the national title, Fontana continued to add to his resume with a solid sixth place finish at the 2008 UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships followed by a fifth place at the Beijing Olympic Games in the cross-country mountain bike race.
As befitting someone with such strong Italian foundations, Fontana’s cyclo-cross bike bears the name of one of the oldest and most storied frame builders in Italy: Guerciotti. Fontana joined the team in the winter of 2004, a full four decades after the company was founded by brothers – and former ‘cross racers – Paolo and Italo Guerciotti just outside of Milan. As testament to the company’s dedication to the sport, Guerciotti riders have won 10 world championships.
"Guerciotti is the history of cyclo-cross," said Fontana. "They are very passionate and a real fan of cyclo-cross. For me, Paolo Guerciotti is the Enzo Ferrari of cyclo-cross. He is a man who has the passion of cyclo-cross inside him. I'm proud to race with this jersey."
Fontana rides the company's top-end X-Crow, a full carbon model with a claimed frame weight of just 1.3kg (2.87lb). According to the young talent – he is just 24 years old – the carbon frame’s extra rigidity provides better overall responsiveness than traditional aluminum frames and more precise handling, especially around tight corners, but the stiffer ride requires some equipment adjustments.
"It's perfect for me, very reactive, probably more than other frames but it is very stiff," he said. "In order to compensate for the stiffness, I need to always find the right pressure in the tyres so it handles better. The front of the bike is very light and great for when I need to jump the barriers. I think when you have a small size frame you need to ride with your weight on the rear wheel more to help drive the bike better."
At 1.72m (5ft 8in) tall, Fontana was originally matched to a 54cm frame but switched to a 52cm size for the 2008-09 season in order to have a 10mm shorter head tube. Since the top tube was 2cm shorter as well, he added a longer 120mm FSA OS 99 aluminum stem and wider 44cm FSA K-Force Light carbon handlebars.
"I believe that if you increase the stem then you have to increase the handlebar width as well in order to have better steering," he said. The rollout of components includes just about everything you would expect from a world-class 'cross bike. Fontana uses Shimano Dura-Ace 7800 STI Dual Control levers, front and rear derailleurs, chain, and cassette plus XTR SPD pedals. White and gold TRP EuroX Magnesium brakes are a modern and lightweight take on the classic design for all-weather braking and the newly added integrated barrel adjuster now makes for easier adjustments.
FSA provides Fontana with its K-Force Light cranks and ceramic bottom bracket as well as a collection of deep-section RD-488 carbon wheels to play with. "The wheels are very stiff and they are very strong," said Fontana. "They aren't the most comfortable but when there are a lot of stones or rocks on the circuit you'll always finish the race because these wheels will never break." A top ‘cross rider always arrives at the race prepared with a selection of tubular tyres for all weather conditions and terrain, and Fontana can choose between two of the best brands on the circuit: Challenge and Dugast. He prefers to use the Challenge Grifo 32 tyres on days when it is wet and slippery, saving the more aggressive Dugast Rhino for the thick muddy days.
"The Challenge tyres are very good in the normal conditions, wet or dry," Fontana said. "I think they are better than Dugast on these kinds of days because they have an extra row of grip on the sidewall to prevent sliding around the corners. In wet conditions I would prefer to use the Challenge tires." Finishing things off is a white Selle Italia SLR saddle for the comfort of a 'cross rider who rarely dismounts, bunnyhopping all obstacles in his path.
Fontana wasn’t able to take his X-Crow to a repeat performance at this year’s Italian national championships, finishing just 1.41s behind winner Enrico Franzoi (Liquigas). Fontana has been named in his national team for the upcoming world championships this weekend in Hoogerheide though, and we can rest assured we haven’t seen the last of this rising star.